“…so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word.”
There are many explanations of the place and meaning of baptism in the Christian worldview. Unfortunately, those of us in the 21st century discover this ancient rite with its original meaning and purpose clouded in teaching and practice. What was done in New Testament days and what is done today are often far apart.
The church of Jesus was sanctified, that is, set apart from the world so that it would be holy and sinless. That is the only way it can be the body of Christ. In order to do that, three things were required by Jesus. One, he had to die on the cross for the sins of man. Two, he had to be buried in order to mark a space between the earthly Jesus and the heavenly one. Three, he had to rise from the dead to prove that the sins of the world were gone and he was able to resume his place as God in heaven.
Now we look at what the church, one at a time did to duplicate those three things. One, the individual had to die to the old man of sin. Two, he had to be buried to show the change between the old and the new. Three, he had to be resurrected in order to walk as a new man.
How was this done? Paul makes it abundantly clear in Romans 6:3-7. Basically, this is what he said, “Those who are baptized into Christ were baptized into his death, buried into death, and raised to walk in a new life.” In baptism, Paul claims we were united in the death of Christ. This union allows us to be united in his resurrection.
Let me summarize: one goes into baptism with sin but due to the sacrificial act of Christ’s death comes out of the baptismal grave alive without sin. That person is then added to the body of Christ, (see Acts 2:41) as a sanctified, cleansed saint because of the washing of water with the word. This is so similar to Jesus’ lesson to Nicodemus. The Christian is a person born again through the water and the Spirit. They heard the word preached and were baptized for the forgiveness of their sins. Compare 1 Peter 3:21.
What is changed in baptism is not external but internal. Death occurs. Death to sin occurs. Removal of sin occurs based on the blood of Jesus. Resurrection to a new creature, a born-again person occurs. The result is the person is added to the church as part of the sanctified ones. They become purified saints. The point of crossing from death to life, from sins to salvation is the point of baptism. Check Paul’s comparison of the baptism of the children of Israel which was their “saving” point (1 Cor. 10).
Baptism in that regard is also symbolized as a type of circumcision. Again not of the flesh but of the spirit (Col. 2:11, 12).
Task for Today: Die to sin, be buried in the death of Christ and rise to the newness of life. Live as a part of the cleansed by water and word church of Jesus.